My first experience with the survival horror genre, much like a lot of people, was with the original Resident Evil on PlayStation. Ever since then, I've been hooked to horror games. Even if I've never played a particular title, I've at least read up about it. But when I first played Resident Evil, I was terrible at it. Even today, my naturally instinct in almost every game is to kill everything, because that's what videogames do, right? They condition us to kill everything? Anyway, I never beat the old school RE games when I was a kid, because I would quickly run out of ammo and I was too much of a man to run away from enemies. Thank you for fixing that problem, Resident Evil 6. Just kidding, I still hate you.
With my interest in horror games, I recently watched a playthrough of Outlast. I don't have a PC, so I can't play the game myself until I eventually pick up a PS4, but even then I'm not sure if I want to play it. Why? I'll be honest, even though I love horror games, the act of playing them stresses me out, and the fact that it's a game that relies on you hiding effectively and not being able to attack only stresses me out more. While watching the playthrough, I found that Outlast actually reminded me of one of my favorite horror games, The Suffering. It was mostly the environments that caused me to make the comparison (Outlast takes place in a grungy asylum, The Suffering in a grungy prison), and it brought back some good memories.
Pictured: good memories
Back in 2005, I worked at a Blockbuster Video, and in between trying to explain to old people why we no longer carried movies on VHS and catching every other customer trying to steal, I had the perk of playing games for free. We didn't have a great selection, but I did discover a few hidden gems during my time there, and The Suffering was one of them. It had already been out for about a year when I played it, which was also the time in my life where I was watching Ghost Hunters a lot, because I used to have bad taste in television. Coincidentally, the prison in The Suffering, Carnate Island Penitentiary, was inspired by Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which was featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters, and there's even a mini-documentary about Eastern State in the The Suffering's special features.
The player controls Torque, a man convicted of allegedly murdering his wife and two sons, but due to his blackouts, doesn't remember anything about what happened. Only a few minutes into the opening cutscene, an earthquake hits and the prison is overrun with monsters, which are referred to as "malefactors." Due to the prison's shady history and the violence that took place there over the years, the malefactors all represent a different form of execution used at the prison. For example, the Slayer enemy (pictured above) represents the inmates that were executed by decapitation, and the Marksman malefactor represents death by firing squad.
One of the things that made The Suffering stand out from other survival horror titles is what, for lack of a better term, I'm just going to call "Beast Mode," because that's essentially what it is, although the official name is "Insanity Mode." Throughout the game, Torque's mental stability and inner rage are mentioned quite often, and Torque can actually transform into a manifestation of his rage. If I remember correctly, it's never fully disclosed if Torque is actually transforming, or if it's just rage-induced adrenaline that causes him to be practically impervious to damage.
The Suffering was released pre-Resident Evil 4, so it was one of first, if not the first, survival horror game that was more suited to the fighter than the runner. You always had enough ammo to get you through a fight, and the addition of Beast Mode made most battles a breeze.
Throughout the game, Torque encounters the spirit of Dr. Killjoy (winner in the Most Un-Subtle Villain Name category), who was the psychiatrist and doctor of the penitentiary, and was the one who administered a lot of the torture on the island. The Suffering's wiki says that Dr. Killjoy has a strong resemblance to horror icon Vincent Price, but in my opinion he looked a lot more like Dr. Vannacutt from the 1999 version of House of Haunted Hill, which, coincidentally, was a remake of a Vincent Price film. Dr. Killjoy appears through the use of projectors scattered about the facility, and makes comments about Torque's mental state.
The game had three endings, and the endings were dependent on where you stood in the morality system at the end of the game. Now, the morality system wasn't as deep as something like Mass Effect, most decisions basically came down to "Kill this guy" or "Don't kill this guy," but overall I felt it was implemented pretty well. You weren't told "Hey, this is a morality choice." When I played it, I wound up getting the neutral ending, which resulted in Torque knocking out the guard who arrived to rescue him by boat, and escape the island.
It's not the most terrifying game in the world, but the lack of light throughout the prison, the abundant amount of enemies, and the depressing characters all made for a very enjoyable experience. It plays like a typical third-person shooter, with the option to switch to first-person on the fly. You can carry up to 10 bottles of painkillers, which act the health in the game, and can be used at will whenever you need a health boost.
There was a sequel, The Suffering: Ties That Bind, released the following year. It takes place immediately after the original in Torque's hometown of Baltimore, and Torque is tortured throughout the game by crime lord Blackmore. It's revealed that Blackmore was actually the one responsible for killing Torque's family, but you later discover that Blackmore is one of Torque's alternate personalities, so the story can basically be summed up by saying "It wasn't Torque who killed his family, just kidding, it totally was."
I remember this game being much more difficult than the original with the addition of super malefactors, which were nothing more than malefactors encased in metal, causing you to use either more ammunition, or your more powerful weapons. They also brought in a secret government agency who were armed to the teeth, and you could no longer stock up on painkillers, instead having to find them scattered about the city and used immediately. There's a woman named Jordan who works for the agency and has "dedicated her life to studying the malefactors," which, now that I think about it, doesn't make sense considering that the malefactors were manifestations of the violence of Carnate Island, and they didn't come into existence until earlier that night.
All the endings pertain to what happens with Blackmore and what actually happened on the night Torque killed his family. In the good ending, Torque clears Blackmore from his mind and Carmen (Torque's wife) forgives him. The neutral ending reveals that Torque accidentally killed his wife, which caused his oldest son to kill his brother and then commit suicide, then both Blackmore and Torque realize they can't get rid of each other and say "deal with it." The evil ending has Torque murdering his entire family, with Blackmore taking control of Torque's mind, which doesn't sound nearly as horrifying as the neutral ending.
Ties That Bind was a decent game, but it could have been better, and I feel it tarnished the original. The story is pretty convoluted, has lots of unnecessary characters, and contradicts itself in a few spots. For instance, they show Torque as someone who worked for Blackmore, but later, it turns out that Torque is Blackmore, and the good ending reveals that Blackmore's goons killed Torque's family, which means that it was actually Torque's goons who killed his family. It really doesn't add up.
Blackmore was played by Michael Clarke Duncan. R.I.P.
I'd really like to see a third game in the series, but I'm not sure who has the license at the moment, as it was a Midway series. Unfortunately, with the way that games sell these days, it probably wouldn't be in the best interest of the license-holder to make a third title, as The Suffering doesn't have the name recognition or fanbase of a Resident Evil or Dead Space. I thought The Suffering was one of the better survival horror games of the previous generation, and if you never got around to playing it, give it a go, but don't bother with Ties That Bind, the story is much better if you just pretend the series begins and ends with the original.